Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Craig Shilowich
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, and Timothy C. Simons
“Jesus Christ! Just make your stories juicy.”
Christine and I have gone through a bit of a trial. I moved up to the far north recently, and on my first trip back to Toronto when I was loading up on limited release films, I tried to see Christine at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Sadly, issues with parking made me late and I had to give up. Months later my girlfriend and I decide to visit Saskatoon, as I am planning films to see (my current town has one screen), I notice of all films, Christine is playing at their Rainbow Cinema Roxy Theatre. We got delayed leaving for Saskatoon and sadly arrived too late to see Christine, and could not see it the next day as it only played at 9:15PM, when we planned to leave much earlier. So I figured, whatever, I will see it eventually, it will be on Netflix or I can rent it online, I’ll be fine. Then a couple of weeks later we head to Winnipeg to finish some Christmas shopping (and for me to catch some awards movies). As I go to use the Atom app to get tickets for Manchester by the Sea, I see I can sort it by Metacritic scores, as I do, I see that of all movies, Christine is playing that evening at the Winnipeg Cinematheque. So, I went ahead and scratched Allied off the list and replaced it with Antonio Campos’s Christine, a viewing months in the making.
So, what did I think of the long-awaited film? I have somewhat mixed feelings. If I am to start somewhere where I have no mixed feelings, it is on the cast. One of the greatest trends in 2016 movies has been the emergence of Tracy Letts as a regular character actor. He is goddamn wonderful. His gruff mouthiness is on perfect display here as the station manager. The supporting cast including the terrific Michael C. Hall using his innate creepiness to great effect, and VEEP Standout Timothy Simons, and Louie regular Maria Dizzia, and Rectify star J. Smith Cameron are all terrific at building a textured environment for the film’s central tempest Christine Chubbuck, played by Rebecca Hall. Those who do not know the true story on which this film is based, I will not spoil it, but it follows the story of a TV reporter struggling with depression in the 1970s as she tries to advance her career. Hall channels some deep undercurrent of darkness as she plays the increasingly unhinged Chubbuck. There are moments of clarity almost as frightening as the moments of frenzied anxiety, and the way she sulks angrily like a child is great. There are mannerisms of a girl who never fully developed into a functional adult and it’s stellar. There is sadly not more context to the character (though a lot is built with hints to the past and the portrayal of her doting, likely too-much-so, mother J. Smith Cameron). This is a bit of a drawback but Hall fills in a lot of gaps with her interactions, he avoidance of eye contact in intimate moments, her searching use of work as a get-out-of-social-interactions-free-card, and her inability to understand central conflicts in her life. It is truly a great performance.
Sadly outside of the great performances, there is a bit of a gap in quality. The film evokes the 1970s beautifully, but seems to enjoy the colour scheme a little too much, casting a bit of an ugly pall over the film. More importantly the film feels a little long at just under two hours. We begin to understand Christine’s internal mechanics early on, and the relationships are established well in brief spurts. The film, however moves at a bit to deliberate a pace. This severely weakens any attempt to build tension until the final act of the film. Speaking of which, the film ends with a bit of an inscrutable coda that sucks a little of the power out of the ending of the film. In looking back at the trailer, it really covers the entire character and story in just a couple of minutes. Campos plays this out over two hours.
The film is still a worthwhile undertaking, even if just to watch Rebecca Hall navigate this world as Christine, who struggles to find her way out of a rock and a hard place as the demands of modern TV ‘journalism’ come at odds with her journalistic integrity. Hall is phenomenal, and Campos’s handling of the dark material is, for the most part, quite strong.